Face-to-face Filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli talks about his new movie, Kurmavatara, the plight of serious cinema in Kannada, and the state of popular Indian cinema
G irish Kasaravalli, born in 1950, is one of the pioneers of parallel cinema in India. A gold medallist from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, Kasaravalli debuted with Ghatashraddha (1977). During the last three decades, he has directed 14 films and a tele-serial. Kasaravalli has the unique distinction of winning the National Film Award for Best Feature Film four times – Ghatashraddha, Tabarana Kathe (1986), Tayi Saheba (1997) and Dweepa (2001). He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2011. His latest film Kurmavatara features in the International Film festival of Kerala this year .
What is your new film about?
It is about an aging man, a clerk in a government office who slogs for long hours and is a nuisance to everyone. Then, a television director casts him in his serial as Gandhi. His son and daughter-in-law force him to act so that they can send their son to a better school. The old man agrees because he loves his grandson. For the role, he reads and learns about Gandhi and Gandhism.
This understanding of Gandhism has him discovering things about himself. It becomes a kind of inner journey for him, where he begins to understand his past in a different light. As he begins to appear regularly on television, people begin to look up to him as Gandhi and want him to do wonders. His son discovers an economic opportunity by cashing in on his father’s new-found fame. But in the end he understands that it is difficult to play the role of Gandhi in real life.
Why the title Kurmavatara ? Does it indicate the vanity of someone hoping to lift the world from its woes?
It is a question on whether Gandhian values can lift our present world from degeneration. Today, we are moving in the opposite direction. Gandhi believed in small things, nowadays we believe only in big things; even if you are telling a lie, you only want to sell your product.
What is the condition of serious cinema in Kannada, especially in the post-globalisation decade ?
The situation has become worse. Now serious filmmakers have to restrict themselves to small budgets if they want to make their projects viable. Earlier, I have made films for about Rs. 35 to 40 lakhs; but now many of their budgets are limited to Rs. 20 to 25 lakhs. So they try to finish their films by completing their shoot in 10 to 15 days and have to compromise on many technical things. But they are good because their content is good.
Do Kannada films have an international market like Tamil and Hindi?
No, somehow Kannadigas never want to see their own films! I showed one of my films in Brisbane and invited the Kannada associations to the screening. None of them turned up for my film, but they promptly turned up for Hindi films. They are also interested in Kannada popular films; they seldom come to watch serious films. In fact when I screened Gulabi Talkies , they were upset. They said this film will give them a bad name by showing that Muslims are not taken care of in India. They were also upset by the market scene where there are a lot of flies! They don’t want to believe that India is like that. Another thing I noticed is that when you show Indian films abroad, you find a lot of people gathering for Bollywood films, and Bengalis going for Bengali movies.
There is no serious or sizeable audience for South Indian cinema. So, the problem is to find people from your own language to watch your films.
The withdrawal of Doordarshan from telecasting award winning films in the national channel was a big blow to serious cinema. As a result, regional cinemas now only talk to themselves and not to a national audience.
True. In fact, they were doing a great service by doing that, because these films were the ones that really reflected the local flavour. And sitting in Bangalore, I could understand the life and problems of people in Assam, Manipur, Orissa and so on. By showing only Hindi films you lose that feeling; for, Hindi films never talked about the problems of Assam or Arunachal Pradesh, which were never part of their ‘reality’.
How do you look at contemporary Malayalam cinema?
I always liked Malayalam cinema and I used to tell film people back home ‘Look at Malayalam cinema — there they have Adoor and Aravindan on the one hand, and on the commercial side, better commercial films compared to other languages in the country’. Now the whole thing is gone. Earlier even the most commercial films had that Malayalam flavour. During the last year I watched a lot of Malayalam films as a jury and found that they were as bad as Kannada films. No reflection of reality at all.
What about Hindi films, like those of Anurag Kashyap?
I think the so-called next generation films will concentrate on urban themes, which have a demand in the global market.
They target the global market and that is why they look like Taiwanese or Korean films; they borrow their ideas from there. Popular Hindi films have found another market – that of NRIs. These people deal with the underbelly of society only to market it to global markets; none of them have an Indian market in mind. Unfortunately, they are also very successful.
Somehow Kannadigas never want to see their own films!